« PreviousContinue »
to perceive it fully. We shall first exhibit, in the convenient form of a Table, the variations in the value of the currency, and the nominal and real amount of the Revenue at the different periods. It is constructed from the accounts contained in the Report of the Committee of 1819, and from the foregoing Tables.
TABLE VI.-CURRENCY in which TAXES were Paid, in
Twelve Years ending 1821.
Amount of Average mar
cent. between Nominal A- Taxes in the ket price of
Market and mount of Taxes, Currency of
1792 and 1821.
We may now remark, that although this Table gives the comparative amount of the taxes in the currency in which they were actually paid each year, and at par, it is, for obvious reasons, necessary to take an average of years, where there were such fluctuations in the depreciation of the currency within the space
of a few months. Let us then take the two most expensive periods of the war; the three years 1810, 1811 and 1812, and the three years 1813, 1814 and 1815. The average depreciation in the former period was 213, and in the latter 28%. The average nominal amount of taxes in the two periods was, in round numbers, 74 millions and 844 millions respectively ; but their real amount, at par, was only 584 and 60% respectively. Therefore the country has been paying, during the last year, a larger amount of taxes, by half a million, than it did during the
most wasteful and oppressive period of the late war ; and a larger amount, by nearly three millions, than it did during the period next to that in point of expenditure. Nothing can more truly illustrate the effects of the return to cash payments than this statement. The measure may have been wise ; it may have been inevitable; but it has had the effect of augmenting the pressure of the public burthens to a larger amount than the removal of the war taxes relieved the couniry in 1816. When we speak of the return to cash payments, we of course do not allude merely to the measures of 1819, but the whole operation begun in 1815, of reducing discounts, and thus lowering the market to the mint price of gold.
Now, the great practical question is, Whether the country ought to be burthened, in the sixth year of peace, with a load of taxes somewhat greater than was levied during the most expensive years of a war wholly unexampled in profusion? That our establishments should be reduced to a far lower scale, no man, be his political opinions what they may, now ventures seriously to deny. That the higher salaries of publick functionaries must be diminished, and that many of their places must be dispensed with, is admitted on all hands.
More difference of opinion may exist with respect to the military establishment; but the impossibility of carrying on the government, without relieving the people by substantial retrenchments, will in all probability decide this question. The Sinking Fund is clung to with greater pertinacity, because it is supposed necessary to maintain the publick credit. Yet, in its origin, less, by nearly a million and a half, was appropriated to the redemption of the debt, than is now allotted for that purpose, making allowance for the different amounts of the debt at ihe two periods. No man denies that, if the resources of the country can bear it, a certain portion of the debt should yearly be paid off: But no man of ordinary sagacity now contends that the amassing money at cumpound interest, with this view, is either an economical or a rational project. If, instead of raising the interest of the redeemed debt, by continuing the taxes allotted to its charges, the money were left in the pockets of the people, an accumulation far more rapid would take place than any thing the powers of the boasted Fund can pretend to effect. But it is more than doubtful whether, in the present state of the country, any attempts should be made to pay off the debt; it seems a sounder, as well as a more merciful policy, to give the nation at length some breathing time-spatium requiemque dolori ;-and, when a remission of the most oppressive taxes shall have rendered the others more productive, and recruited the financial resources of the State, by augmenting the wealth of individuals, then will the time be for oblaining a clear surplus of revenue, which may be applied to the discharge of the debt, and, with each sum of the principal paid off, set free so much interest, and still further reduce so many taxes. This is the only kind of sinking fund which is founded upon intelligible principles, and calculated to secure its object upon economical terms.
Art. V. Sardanapalus, a Tragedy. The Two Foscari, a Tra
gedy. Cain, a Mystery. By Lord Byron. 8vo. pp. 410. Murray, London, 1822.
a good dramatic poem-than we had imagined. Not that we should, a priori, have imagined it to be very easy; but it is impossible not to be struck with the fact, that, in comparatively rude times, when the resources of the art had been lees carefully considered, and Poetry certainly had not collected all her materials, success seems to have been more frequently, and far more easily obtained. From the middle of Elizabeth's reign till the end of James's, the drama formed by far the most brilliant and beautiful part of our poetry,—and indeed of our literature in general. From that period to the Revolution, it lost a part
of its splendour and originality; but still continued to oc
* Before the commencement of the present Session of Parliament, a ministerial pamphlet was published, called the State of the Nation,' and distinguished by a disregard of facts, which could hardly have been expected from the most inveterate habits of official assertion. The exposure which has frequently been made of its misstatements renders any detailed examination of them here quite superfluous. Indeed the reader can hardly, for a moment, be deceived by so clumsy a piece of fabrication. What, for instance, can be thought of a writer who gravely takes credit, on the part of the ministers, for all the retrenchments which have been forced upon them by their adversaries, and, in many instances, by votes of the House of Commons, parading these as if they had been voluntarily made upon a system of reduction and economy? Nor is it much less insulting to the common understanding of the publick, to praise the Government for those improvements in the commercial regulations of the country, which have been for years pressed upon them by their opponents, and as obstinately resisted by them, until, at last, it became impossible to avoid doing something, when as little has been done as was possible. In a literary point of view, the merits of the Tract are altogether upon a level with its fairness and candour.
cupy the most conspicuous and considerable place in our literary annals. For the last century, it has been quite otherwiseour poetry has ceased almost entirely to be dramatic; and, though men of great name and great talent have occasionally adventured into this once fertile field, they have reaped no laurels, and left no trophies behind them. The genius of Dryden appears nowhere to so little advantage as in his tragedies; and the contrast is truly humiliating when, in a presumptuous attempt to heighten the colouring, or enrich the simplicity of Shakespeare, he bedaubs with obscenity, or deforms with rant, the genuine passion and profligacy of Antony and Cleopatra-or intrudes on the enchanted solitude of Prospero and his daughter, with the tones of worldly gallantry, or the caricatures of affected simplicity. Otway, with the sweet and mellow diction of the former age, had none of its force, variety, or invention. Its decaying fires burst forth in some strong and irregular flashes, in the disorderly scenes of Lee; and sunk at last in the ashes and scarcely glowing embers of Rowe.
Since his time-till very lately—the school of our ancient dramatists has been deserted : and we can scarcely say that any new one has been established. Instead of the irregular and comprehensive plot-the rich discursive dialogue-the ramblings of fancy—the magic creations of poetry-the rapid succession of incidents and charactersthe soft, flexible, and evervarying diction--and the flowing, continuous, and easy versification which characterized those masters of the golden time, we had tame, formal, elaborate, and stately compositionsmeagre stories--few personages-characters decorous and consistent, but without nature or spirit-a guarded, timid, classical diction-ingenious and methodical disquisitions—turgid or sententious declamations and a solemn and monotonous strain of versification. Nor can this be ascribed, even plausibly, to any decay of genius' among us; for the most remarkable failures have fallen on the highest talents. We have already hinted at the miscarriages of Dryden. The exquisite taste and fine observation of Addison, produced only the solemn mawkishness of Cato. The beautiful fancy and generous affections of Thomson, were chilled and withered as soon as he touched the verge of the Drama, where his name is associated with a mass of verbose puerility, which it is difficult to conceive could ever have proceeded from the author of the Seasons and the Castle of Indolence. Even the mighty intellect, the eloquent morality, and lofty diction of Johnson, which gave too tragic and magnificent a tone to his ordinary discourse, failed altogether to support him in his attempt to write actual
tragedy; and Irene is not only unworthy of the imitator of Juvenal and the author of Rasselas and the Lives of the Poets, but is absolutely, and in itself, nothing better than a tissue of wearisome and unimpassioned declamations. We have named the most celebrated names in our literature, since the decline of the drama almost to our own days; and if they have neither lent any new honours to the stage, nor borrowed any from it, it is needless to say, that those who adventured with weaker powers had no better fortune. The Mourning Bride of Congreve, the Revenge of Young, and the Douglas of Home, [we cannot add the Mysterious Mother of Walpole-even to please Lord Byron), are almost the only tragedies of the last age that are familiar to the present; and they are evidently the works of a feebler and more effeminate generation-indicating, as much by their exaggerations as by their timidity, their own consciousness of inferiority to their great predecessors—whom they affected, however, not to imitate, but to supplant.
But the native taste of our people was not thus to be seduced and perverted; and when the wits of Queen Anne's time had lost the authority of living authors, it asserted itself by a fond recurrence to its original standards, and a resolute neglect of the more regular and elaborate dramas by which they had been succeeded. Shakespeare, whom it had been the fashion to decry and even ridicule, as the poet of a rude and barbarous age, * was reinstated in his old supremacy: and when his legitimate progeny could no longer be found at home, his spurious issue were hailed with rapture from foreign countries, and invited and welcomed with the most eager enthusiasm on their arrival. The German imitations of Schiller and Kotzebue, caricatured and distorted as they were by the aberrations of a
* It is not a little remarkable to find such a man as Goldsmith joining in this pitiful sneer. In his Vicar of Wakefield, he constantly represents his famous town ladies, Miss Carolina Amelia Wilelmina Skeggs, and the other, as discoursing about ' high life, Shakespeare, and the musical glasses !'- And, in a more serious passage, he introduces a player as astonishing the Vicar, by informing him that · Dryden and Rowe's manner were quite out of fashion-our taste has gone back a whole century; Fletcher, Ben Jonson, and, above all, the plays of Shakespeare, are the only things that go down.'
How!' says the Vicar, is it possible that the present age can be pleased with that antiquated dialect, that obsolete humour, and those overcharged characters which abound in the works you mention ?' No writer of name, who was not aiming at a paradox, would venture to say this now. VOL. XXXVI, No. 72.